Big Girls Club (The Happy Dance Dance Princess Show)
nytheatre.com review by Matt Johnston
July 4, 2009
There have been numerous pieces of theatre, film, television, and literature that have embarked on a journey into the psychologically violent depths of the social impact of female body image on the lives of women and young girls. Big Girls Club (The Happy Happy Dance Princess Show), part of The Brick's Antidepressant Festival this summer, is maybe the most direct and biting I have experienced—and that is exactly the reason it doesn't quite work.
The event of the show revolves around three girlfriends having a "girls night" at one of their houses. The event, which begins as a harmless and fun evening among friends including food, pillow fights, truth or dare games, etc., descends quickly into a passive aggressive verbal fight to the death as they battle each other through defense mechanisms for their own self-esteem issues. In addition, throughout the evening we are shown various promos for a fictional television show called "butterface," a program that takes young women with gorgeous figures and ugly faces and gives them makeovers.
The ideas are interesting, and the cast valiantly and believably tears into one another through their passive aggressive discursive violence. But, unfortunately, the show ultimately doesn't work because it really seems to be all ideas and not much else. The script doesn't have much in the way of structure to pull the themes through and the characters are more like hollowed-out mouthpieces or archetypes than actual layered and complex human beings.
To this point, Leah Winkler (writer and director) really does her important themes a disservice. I can see how creating archetypes was probably the point, to help show the commonality of these problems girls have with body image and society. But as the viewer, I saw little more depth to these people than a basic selfishness, and a violently defensive lack of self-confidence. And that hurts the message rather than helps it.
I am not a woman, so I make no claim to fully identifying with the posed concerns, but I would think that the point in tackling these important issues would be to pinpoint the deep and complex societal and sociological roots at the source of this girl-on-girl violence (something like Tina Fey's Mean Girls, for example, does a much better job in a much more mainstream way). Big Girls Club is just a swarm of increasing nastiness and violence, and even when we begin to get some back story on the characters (past abortions, problems with obesity, sexual experiences) they are not opened up as real people, but rather as active carriers of an idea. Which loses an audience's attention fast because we don't care about them, and therefore we don't care about the themes they are supposed to carry.
Ultimately, the ideas presented in Big Girls Club are important to discuss and to bring to audiences, but the way in which the show goes about exploring these ideas is out of step with how an audience will be moved by them. Without fleshed out and complex characters, a real story, and a structure, there is little these performers, talented as they are, can do with the ideas they aim to present.